Archive for the ‘ui’ Category

Locality, beauty, and speed: major updates to Stormpulse

Now with city-level coverage for thousands of U.S. locations and ZIP codes

We’ve spent the last four months working on an update to make Stormpulse.com more local, more beautiful, and faster.  And as of this morning, you can go and see for yourself.

Major highlights:

  • Home page attempts to geo-locate and route you to a local weather page.
  • Current conditions box shows current temperature, conditions, and winds.
  • Forecast box shows high and low temperature and an hour-by-hour summary for the next three days.
  • Map imagery with a resolution of 500 m/pixel–four times greater than our previous maps (so you zoom in four times closer).
  • Speed boost: the map only loads the severe weather information it needs for your current view (no loading or rendering data needlessly).
  • Map enhancements–clearer labeling and more beautiful terrain.

Those are the big items.  Other items we get excited about:

  • When viewed with an iPhone, the weather information is displayed in a friendly, readable fashion (and more mobile support coming soon).
  • The ‘Share Map‘ feature now works for U.S. Severe Weather and allows you to share down to the plotpoint for a storm.  For example, a close-up view of Katrina bearing down on NOLA.  This will work for forecast positions during an active storm as well.
  • Improved color scheme for severe weather alerts.  In our first attempt at severe weather coverage, we adopted the National Weather Service’s colors entirely.  Since then, we’ve seen a few big storms come and go, and a lot of winter storms come and go, and we’ve adjusted our colors to improve visibility on the critical alerts, and quiet down the less important ones.
  • Simplified site navigation bar.  Fewer choices with an expandable button at the end means less confusion, we believe.
  • Intelligent expanding and contracting of weather info boxes in the left column.  We are big believers in only showing what matters and hiding the rest.  We’ve tried to make some smart decisions about what to hide and what to show by default.  Tell us if you disagree!

Since so much of this is visual, I thought I’d include a few more screenshots that do this update justice.

A Winter Storm Watch in Hartford, CT:

Wintry weather in … Texas?!  Yep.

As always, we looking forward to hearing what you think.

The Stormpulse Team

Nationwide severe weather on Stormpulse

This morning we updated the site to include most of the severe weather watches and warnings published by the National Weather Service (weather.gov).

This includes many, many types of hazards such as:

  • Severe Thunderstorms
  • Tornadoes
  • Floods & flash floods
  • Fire watches/warnings
  • Winter storms (snow, sleet)
  • Frosts/freezes
  • Extreme heat

Here’s an example of some frost creeping into Charlotte, NC this morning:

Frost in Charlotte, NC

We’ve adopted the same colors as the official NWS charts (though that may change), and we’ve added value (in our Stormpulse way) by making the areas clickable, by joining together neighborhoring shapes into a single area (less clutter, less confusion) when they share the same advisory/alert, and by giving you access to the complete description right inside the map.

Along with the mapping visuals, you’ll also notice we have a search box that supports searching by state, city, or zip code.

Search

Example searches: “Memphis, TN“, “33411“, “New York, NY“, “Minnesota“, “California“, “FL“.

Play around and have fun with it, and let us know what you think.  We are considering this very much an early version (‘beta’ in developer lingo), so beware of hidden bugs and potential performance issues if you are using a slower computer.

We’re building our own ad network

If you just want to know how to advertise with us, you can head to the Advertise page on our site. If, however, you’d first (or only) like to know more about this decision of ours, read on …

As I began this post, I wrestled with a title. Something about “accepting advertising” came to mind, but falls so short of what we’re really doing. What are we doing? First, a bit of context:

By our latest estimate, building Stormpulse.com has taken over 10,000 hours stretched over 4 years time. In that time, we’ve done nothing to monetize the site except adding a Tipjoy button and later a PayPal Donate button. Those steps were a response to user demands that we have some way of making money off the site. (We felt appreciated to say the least.)

Some of you (a very, very small number) may have noticed that we took down the Donate button last Friday. This reflects a decision we’ve made: we’re going to build a network of severe weather-related advertisers from the ground up.

In keeping with the same do-it-yourself spirit that caused us to write our own Flash application code instead of co-opting Google Maps, we’re going to flip open our phones and make the calls and make the advertising connections it takes to ensure that our site never has an irrelevant ad on its pages. We can’t leave that up to a contextual algorithm.

As consumers of our own site, we really love the ad-free experience, so we’re determined to make our advertisements as content-like as possible. No fat bellies, no dancing bears, no blinking text. Many of those 10,000 hours invested in the site have been about high-quality display. We’re not going to muck it up now.

In fact, we’re building our own network so that we have a total control that will allow us to ultimately remove the line between advertising and content. What do I mean by that? Another day, another post (but yes, we have something coming). For now, know that we are looking forward to speaking with anyone that would like to advertise their product or service on our site. We have several options available, including geo-targeting.

Those of you that remain concerned should know that we’re also planning to offer an ad-free option. If that’s something you’d be interested in, please let us know.

Concerns, questions, and comments anyone? Fire away.

Watch Ike make landfall with radar (NEXRAD) on the Stormpulse map

We’ve been promising it for a while, and now on the brink of Hurricane Ike‘s landfall into northeastern Texas, we are pleased to announce that we’ve added radar as a layer to the Stormpulse map.

To emphasize the feature during this critical time, we’ve placed it first in the list of layers at the top-right. Just toggle it ‘On’, and a semi-transparent layer of doppler radar observations from across the U.S. will load into view. This data is sourced from NEXRAD–the Doppler Radar National Mosaic published by the National Weather Service.

While this does not appear as high-resolution as other familiar displays of radar (“VIPIR” comes to mind), we hope you’ll agree that this layer adds a critical dimension that was heretofore lacking–namely, watching the rain bands come ashore and eventually being greeted with the eye of the monster. We also hope that, being national in scope, this layer creates interest beyond the context of tropical cyclones. Where will we go from here …

In response to many a good question about “Wind Fields”, we’ve also added labels to the Tropical Storm, Storm, and Hurricane Force wind fields, which shows you their meaning in miles per hour (39-57 mph, 58-73 mph, and 74+ mph, respectively):

To all of the many that asked us about these wind fields and about radar: thank you for helping to drive us in this direction. And to everyone: thoughts and feedback welcome.

Like Stormpulse? Leave a tip with Tipjoy.

This morning we released a small update that allows appreciative users to ‘tip’ Stormpulse, Inc. with a small donation. This actually comes at the behest of our audience–that we ought to be making money with the site, or at least covering our expenses. :-) Yes, we really did have a user ask how they could submit a donation. So there you have it.

The default amount is 10 cents. If you would like to give more, you can. When you give any amount, you are asked to fund a tipjoy account with $5, which you can then use to tip any other site in the tipjoy network.

If you change your mind after submitting a tip (i.e. you’re not interested in funding your tipjoy account), you can easily cancel your tip by going to your transaction history page and clicking ‘cancel unpaid items.’  We promise we’ll still let you use the site and treat you kindly.

Thank you: A summary of Stormpulse feedback in recent days

First of all … with Hurricane Gustav less than 40 hours from landfall, our thoughts are with the people of Louisiana.

I wanted to write a quick post tonight letting all of you know how much we appreciate the flood of feedback and constructive criticism we’ve received, particularly in the last week.  While we read every single character you send our way, we no longer have the ability to respond to every email and continue making progress on the site.  So if we haven’t responded to you personally, we trust you understand …

Since many people claim to be listening to feedback but don’t seem to do much about it, I thought I would prove it by listing the most common (and best) suggestions we’ve heard so far:

  • It’s hard to tell the difference between the various colors in the storm category legend.  Specifically, we need to create a greater distinction between categories 3, 4, and 5.
  • “Please put the category somewhere on the map/info box.”  Done.  We now list “H1″, “H2″, etc. in the information box at the bottom of the map.
  • “Give me some way to make the map bigger“.  Done.  We’ve added a Full-Screen link to the site (look at the top-right), and we’ve made height and width settable parameters in the API.
  • “Let me zoom in farther.”  Coming … we just downloaded imagery from NASA that will allow you to zoom in another one or two steps.
  • Add Little Cayman and Cayman brac to the map!”  Seems reasonable to us.  Haven’t done this yet, though.  Sorry.
  • “Some of the photos for Hurricane Katrina as wrong/false.”  Done.  We’ve gone in and cleared the erroneous ones out, as far as we know.
  • “I can’t see the background tiles/map.”  We’ve narrowed this down, in most cases, to a corporate firewall blocking the traffic or a need to clear your browser cache and try again.
  • Add radar!”  Coming, although it probably won’t animate at first.
  • “Please label latitude and longitude on the grid.”  This is going to be a little tricky, but again, we’ll see what we can do once things calm down a bit.  :-)

All for now.  Thanks again to all of you that have taken the time to write.  And for those that haven’t, thanks for using the site and the API service.  And our fingers are flying fast trying to make it even better.

What are the chances? Track Tropical Storm Fay with wind probabilities on the Stormpulse map

This afternoon we launched a new feature on the site that should help answer the question of ‘when can I expect winds in my area?’

The National Hurricane Center publishes a product called “Wind Speed Probabilities” in sync with their Forecast Advisories that provide percentages indicating when a storm’s winds are most likely to affect a particular area. This information is presented in a tabular format like so:

  - - - - WIND SPEED PROBABILITIES FOR SELECTED  LOCATIONS - - - -  

               FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM
  TIME       18Z FRI 06Z SAT 18Z SAT 06Z SUN 18Z SUN 18Z MON 18Z TUE
PERIODS         TO      TO      TO      TO      TO      TO      TO
             06Z SAT 18Z SAT 06Z SUN 18Z SUN 18Z MON 18Z TUE 18Z WED

FORECAST HOUR    (12)   (24)    (36)    (48)    (72)    (96)   (120)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
MOBILE AL      34  X   1( 1)   9(10)   8(18)   5(23)   2(25)   1(26)
MOBILE AL      50  X   X( X)   2( 2)   2( 4)   1( 5)   X( 5)   1( 6)
MOBILE AL      64  X   X( X)   X( X)   1( 1)   X( 1)   1( 2)   X( 2)

We here at Stormpulse believe this is great information of great value, but the presentation is too complex and non-visual. So we are capturing, storing, and representing it directly on the map, in the form of bar charts and a reduced table with familiar dates and times.

To access this information, click “Wind Probabilities” ‘On’ using the the layers menu in the top-right corner of the map. After a small delay (as data is retrieved from our server), you should see a small multitude of blue boxes appear, with small white, yellow, and orange bars inside.

These miniature bar charts provide a quick glance of wind probabilities for the storm. Clicking on the bar chart will expose a details box that shows the bar chart in a large format, along with up to three buttons labeled ‘CHANCE BY DAY’. The bar chart shows you the overall likelihood that the location will experience tropical storm, storm, or hurricane force winds. Hovering over ‘CHANCE BY DAY’ will show you the chance of a particular wind force distributed over the next 5 days of the storm’s travel.

Here we see that Mobile, Alabama has, as of Tropical Storm Fay Advisory 29A, a 26% chance of experiencing tropical storm force winds in the next 5 days. Hovering over the top ‘CHANCE BY DAY’ button reveals the table at the right, which tells us that Sunday at 5 AM is the most likely time for the onset of these winds. However, just as you should not focus on the center line of the forecast cone, it is wise to look at the overall distribution of these percentages. There is still a 1% chance that the winds will come the night before (Saturday at 5 PM).

We hope you enjoy the extra insight provided by this information. We still have a few tweaks to make to this feature, we would appreciate any feedback or questions you may have. Those of you that are embedding our tracking map on your own site using the Stormpulse API do not need to do anything to take advantage of this new feature. It will appear on the map automatically.

A better buoy GUI: ocean observations on the Stormpulse.com map

This morning we rolled out a buoys feature that we were forced to remove before our initial launch but have been able to bring back (just in time for a new hurricane?). The dataset is sourced from the NOAA’s National Buoy Data Center.

To access the feature, click ‘More’ in the top-right Layers menu to expose the ‘Ocean Buoys’ option. Clicking ‘On’ will retrieve the latest weather reports from all over the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean, and place them on the map in the form of blue boxes and red boxes. Blue boxes represent sea-based observations, while red boxes represent land-based observations. Clicking one of these boxes will bring up details in a ‘dock’ near the bottom of the map.

We can see that thanks to the high-potential disturbance off the coast of Puerto Rico this morning, NOMAD Buoy 41043 (seen here as the blue box in the northeast quadrant of the disturbance) has recorded wind gusts of 31 mph:

These observations update once every few hours, assuming all of the communication between that little object in the vast blue ocean and our servers works properly.

Since our last release, we’ve also fixed a bug such that the entire description for a tropical disturbance can now be seen–just click ‘More…’ in the description box at the bottom of the map when a disturbance is highlighted.

We’ve also added a small feature that will show you the population of a city if you click the label on the map.

Users of the Stormpulse API do not need to do anything to take advantage of these enhancements.  They should already be visible to you and your web visitors.

Tropical disturbances now appearing on Stormpulse.com, embeddable map

For the last few months, we’ve been guilty of not eating our own dog food. Yes, we admit it, we’ve been visiting the NHC’s Graphical Outlook. Numerous times per day. But we couldn’t help it. The content was just too useful.

We like the NHC, really. But we got tired of that, and we got tired of lamenting Stormpulse’s lack (it was a hidden, internal lament), so we’ve added all of that developing storms data to Stormpulse. We’ve replaced their mainframe-inspired, ALL-CAPS announcements with legible, albeit imperfect text, and we’ve replaced their kidney bean outlines for perfect circles (although the kidney beans are certainly more meteorologically-correct). The text for the disturbance appears in a dock of sorts that can be dismissed by clicking the little ‘X’ at the top-right corner.

So now we’re back to eating our own dog food–using our own services to track weather, the same way we hope you do. Of course, we realize you go other places, and that’s O.K., but sometimes a little content annexation is necessary. Especially when it’s free.

Users of the Stormpulse API don’t need to do anything to implement this enhancement; it will show up automatically for any ‘current’ map.

Enjoy, and let us know what you think!

Help text for the interactive map

Some of you may be interested in ‘Help’ text for the interactive map when you have it embedded on your own website. If so, check out our new Help page on this here blog. Feel free to copy and use it for your own site or blog.

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